No player will ever again wear the number 12 on their Panther softball uniform. It was officially retired from use in 2007 – forever linked with Debbie Nelson, a 1983 star athlete at AHS. “There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears in (that) uniform,” she said and perhaps a few scrapes from the 43 bases she stole her senior year. Debbie is a true all-around athlete; she was on the volleyball, softball and basketball teams during all three years at Antioch Senior High School, a feat few other young women achieve. Basketball was Debbie’s favorite sport, but her 5-foot, 2-inch stature put her at a disadvantage. However, It didn’t hold her back in softball, a sport that led to a college scholarship, coaching opportunities and a thriving business. Although barely over 100 pounds, Debbie said she had to “pound for pound, physically and mentally outwork other people” to compete successfully. By the time she was a high school junior, Debbie earned All-League honors in all of her sports. She was All-League in three sports again for her senior year in 1982-83, and racked up several prestigious honors; co-MVP of the softball team, AHS Female Athlete of the Year, All East-Bay Softball Athlete of the Year and Big “C” Athletic Club Softball Athlete of the Year. Debbie played softball at Sacramento City College for two years and transferred to California State University, Sacramento on a softball scholarship, earning a B.S. in recreation administration, and All-Region, All-State and NCAA All-America as a second baseman. Following graduation, Debbie’s first coaching job was at St. Francis High in Sacramento. During her one year as an assistant coach, the team won the California Interscholastic Federation Championship. Debbie returned to CSUS to pursue an MBA, while she moved up through the coaching ranks with the Hornets, finally becoming head coach for her final year there. Debbie then moved on to San Jose State, where she served as head softball coach for four years. In 2001, she coached an Under-18 girls traveling softball squad, sponsored by the People to People exchange program, to a silver medal against European opponents. In 2004, Debbie was hired by the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League as Assistant Coach to the California Sunbirds during their only season in Stockton. Simultaneous with her coaching career, Debbie started her All-American Sports Academy business in Tracy in 1997, which trains between 200-300 amateur softball and baseball players each week. She also spent summers as a traveling director of U.S. Sports Nike Softball camps throughout the western states.
Antioch residents might recognize the late Nick Rodriguez as the namesake of the town’s community center on F Street. Nick was the city’s long-serving Parks and Recreation Commissioner, former Mayor and City Council member. What many newer residents may not know is that Rodriguez possessed superior athletic skills as a 6’2”, 190-pound high school student. The 1946 Antioch High graduate scored 10 touchdowns for the Panthers as a senior. His team was the highest scoring high school football team in California in 1945 and was inducted into the Antioch Sports Legends’ hall for its inaugural 2007 year. Besides football, Nick was the outstanding AHS basketball player of 1945-46, earning All-County for two years, and scored 120 points in his last seven games. He ran several track and field events; high and low hurdles, 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, long jump, discus and anchor in the 440-yard relay for the Panthers. Former Pittsburg High Coach Andy De Stefano is quoted in Nick’s newspaper obituary as saying the “gentle giant” was “Antioch’s greatest all-around athlete ever.” As did many young men during W.W.II, Nick joined the Navy in his senior year, playing first string basketball on the U.S.S. Shangri-La. He returned home after two years and attended Modesto Junior College where he earned All Nor-Cal in football, played basketball and ran track. Crunching quarterbacks didn’t end in high school and college, as Nick continued playing with the Antioch Hornets, the local semi-pro football team that was active from 1950-1955. Following graduation, Nick settled in for a 45-year career at one of Antioch’s largest employers, Fibreboard (later Gaylord Container). During his free time, Nick co-founded the Antioch Quarterback Club Junior Football League in the 1950s and the Antioch Bocce Ball Federation, serving as its first president.
This Panther gridiron star was “the best halfback I have had the pleasure to coach. He can do it all,” according to the late Marv Comstock. Ironically, Dan did not play football as a freshman because he “didn’t think he was good enough” according to a feature story in the Antioch Ledger. This 5’9” explosive runner was the Diablo Valley Athletic League #1 rushing leader for the 1974-75 season and nearly topped the list in scoring. It was his 1,012 yards in 166 carries – with 13 touchdowns – that powered the Panthers to their third consecutive league title and earned Dan Antioch High’s “Ron Pritchard” Award. Dan played varsity for two years, earning “Back of the Year” at the Contra Costa Times-Fitzpatrick Chevrolet Super Sport Awards Banquet and named as one of only six from the Bay Area in 1974 to be nominated as an All-America Football selection, one of the top 100 prep players in the nation. Dan made Second-Team All-DVAL as a junior and First-Team as a senior. His 2-year varsity totals: 1,651 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns and 148 points scored. His 146-yard rushing performance in the Antioch vs. Pittsburg 20-0 victory in 1974 – before 8,000 fans – earned him game MVP as well as the admiration of the Pirates, who bestowed their “Most Worthy Opponent” Award to Dan. Dan played varsity basketball and baseball and was a co-winner of the AHS Athlete of the Year honors in 1975. Following graduation, he was a running back for the Los Medanos College Mustangs. Dan was selected All-League Second Team for the 1975-1976 season. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offered him a full scholarship, but Dan left UNLV before his first season started. A transfer to California State University, Chico quickly followed, where Dan “redshirted” there the first year, and then played football for the Wildcats for two years, earning All-League. Following graduation, Dan later became Antioch’s first foot patrol police officer and was named Officer of the Year in 1989.
These days it’s rare to play varsity in four sports, but Bob distinguished himself by earning his gold block “A” four times during every year he played for Antioch High between 1966-1969. Bob anchored the 440-relay team in track which finished fifth in North Coast Section II competition his senior year with a time of 43.2; started in basketball and baseball and earned All-DVAL defensive back during his busy senior year. Those accomplishments earned him the title of Panther Athlete of the Year in 1969, as well as Antioch High’s Ron Pritchard MVP award for outstanding back. Fitzpatrick Chevrolet named him Contra Costa County Super Sport of the Week for his October, 1968 performance against Pacifica High in which he rushed for 130 yards in 15 carries, leading the Panthers to a 40-0 win. While Woodstock was in full swing in New York, the 6-foot,175-pound runner was practicing to play in the Contra Costa-Alameda All-Star Game in August of 1969. He intercepted a pass and ran for 32 yards in that 14-0 win, but it was his bone-jarring work as a defensive back that merited praise from the Contra Costa All-Star team defensive coordinator Tom Kinnard, who described Bob glowingly. “If there is a better hitter around, I haven’t seen him. Nobody hits harder than White.” Bob’s football skills earned him a full scholarship to the University of Arizona, where he played all four years; cornerback in 1969 on the frosh team, second team safety and special teams varsity in 1970, starting defensive strong safety and first team special teams in 1971 and capping his college career in 1972 as a starting free safety. Not only was he All-Western Athletic Conference in 1971 and ‘72, but All-WAC for academic excellence. Bob had 11 career interceptions for the Wildcats and in November, 1972 and set a U of A record for the all-time longest interception return for a touchdown: 78 yards against Brigham Young University. The Western Athletic Conference selected him as Player of the Week for that accomplishment. After earning a degree in public administration, Bob was drafted in the 11th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but instead chose to leave football and pursue a career in parks and recreation.
Pat Zech’s legacy is nearly 60 feet long; that’s the shot put distance he almost cleared in his senior year at Antioch High in 1974. His 59’ 10 1/2” throw still stands in the Panther record book. Pat’s fantastic shot toss came right when it counted – during the California Interscholastic Federation finals, making him only the second athlete from Antioch to ever place in the top five in the state in the 56-year history of the CIF meet and the first Panther to make state finals twice. In June 1974, Pat was named to the All Nor-Cal Track and Field team – the only DVAL athlete chosen – and was voted as East Bay Athlete of the Year, picked by sportswriters and coaches. Pat was Outstanding Athlete of the 1974 AHS Invitational and the 1973-74 Fitzpatrick Chevrolet Super Sport of the Year. Pat became the 1974 Antioch High Athlete of the Year and was named a high school All-America in football, as well as being recognized by Who’s Who of High School Athletes nationwide. Local sportswriter Rich Waters said Pat was “the greatest athlete to come out of Antioch High in many years.” Besides his record-setting shot put performance, he placed sixth in California in wrestling and won several other competitions in the heavyweight division. Pat was All-DVAL, All-East Bay and All-Nor Cal in football. He turned down a full-ride offer to play at Notre Dame and accepted a football scholarship to the University of Arizona. Pat’s prowess didn’t end in the gym or on the field, he also carried a 3.6 GPA and was president of the Panther Block A Society. Pat was named California’s Outstanding Recruit for the “Devil Pups” program, a nonprofit organization that trains 600 high school students each year in Camp Pendleton, Calif. He lettered in football his freshman and sophomore years of college at UA, but was permanently sidelined with ankle and knee injuries in spring training.
FRONT ROW, L to R: Mike Lucido, Vic Thornhill, Art Acosta, Larry Hopwood, Dan Tuck, Bruce Moar, Alan Brown, Vern Martin
BACK ROW: Coach Snelson, John Beaudin, Junior Grant, Gary Sheide, Dave Tassell, Harold Turley, Greg Glod, Greg Sheide, Manager Kyle Kline (Steve Parks, not pictured)
As the 1960s came to a close, a new era began for Antioch baseball with the phenomenal performance of the 1970 Panther team. Its biggest strength, according to a local sports editor, “was (its) lack of weaknesses.” The team earned Antioch the school’s second consecutive Diablo Valley Athletic League title and had five players in the league’s top 20 batters.
The DVAL champions compiled a record of 14-2 in league play and 17-6 for the season, capped with a second place finish in the Northern California Tournament of Champions, the highest league finish of a DVAL team in Nor Cal history. Their first victory in the tournament was a 1-0 win over Fremont’s Washington High – led by then 16-year old sophomore pitcher Dennis Eckersley, a future major league Hall of Famer. This was followed by a 9-0 whipping of San Rafael that was achieved by the fifth inning and featured a 330-foot homer by Gary Sheide.
Three of the Panthers; shortstop Gary Sheide, pitcher Alan Brown and infielder Dan Tuck, were the first DVAL players ever selected All-Tournament.
Standout players that season were Larry Hopwood (.386) and Mike Lucido (.362), who earned second and sixth place in the DVAL for top batting averages, as well as first and second place for most hits, 22 and 21 respectively. The Panther players were the only two in the DVAL to have more than 20 hits in a season. Other top league batters from AHS were Artie Acosta hitting .315 and Gary Sheide batting .309. The Panther pitching staff, led by ace Al Brown (6-2 in league) and Greg Glod (5-0), had a combined 2.17 ERA in league play.
The 1970 team was also first in the league in total base hits (191), RBIs (96), home runs (7), tied for first in triples (7) and had the highest team batting average (.293), far ahead of second place Clayton Valley at .253. This amazingly talented team scored 105 runs, had 146 hits and stole 47 bases (led by Dan Tuck with 14). It was the first team in DVAL history to win more than 12 games against league opponents.
The Panthers’ coach, Bill Snelson, was named co-winner of Coach of the Year and credits his players as “the best team in two decades and the most coachable – due mostly to their talent, pride and dedication to baseball and Antioch.”